Geylang Adventures founder Cai Yinzhou is also the youngest finalist for the Singapore Youth Award this year.
You might have heard of 27-year-old Cai Yinzhou from his famous social enterprise, Geylang Adventures.
Since 2013, Yinzhou and his team of volunteers have been giving walking tours and free haircuts to migrant workers in the back alleys of Geylang.
His work became so impactful, a property developer recently told him about the increase in the property value in Geylang, thanks to its improving reputation.
“It thought it was quite funny and interesting to see how the reputation of a space directly affects the property value,” said the events and tourism graduate from Murdoch University.
Four years and three walking tours later, Yinzhou is in the running for the Singapore Youth Award 2017, the nation’s highest accolade for youths who inspire and enrich the community.
Growing up in Geylang, alongside sex workers as his neighbours, taught Yinzhou to empathise with their situation and form friendships – something he wishes more Singaporeans would do.
“I grew up in the lorongs of Geylang where raids and fights were common. My neighbours were sex workers, so at a young age, I had the chance to talk to them and learn about the sacrifices they made to end up here.”
“I saw a side of them most people don’t.”
After his unexpected success with Geylang Adventures, Yinzhou created Dakota Adventures/Cassia Resettlement Team in early 2016, to raise awareness about the estate’s historical significance and the social impacts of its relocation on residents.
Built in 1958, Dakota Crescent is one of Singapore’s oldest HDB estates. To make way for new developmental plans, its elderly residents have since relocated the sprawling estate.
The quiet Dakota Crescent estate held many personal and fond memories for Yinzhou.
“My late grandmother stayed in Dakota Crescent. For me, this is a personal journey of understanding her as well. I knew she had stayed in the estate for a long time, but until she passed away, I never knew how much the estate meant to her,” he shared softly.
“She was fortunate enough to have children and family to take care of her. But what about someone in a rental flat, with no family?”
Concerned about the elderly residents’ well-being, Yinzhou decided to help them in the one way he knew best.
“We went in with the concept of Back-alley Barbers, giving free haircuts to the elderly,” said Yinzhou, who practiced cutting his own hair for six months before helping others.
Interacting with the former residents of Dakota Crescent over free haircuts moved him to invite them for his guided tours.
“We found it interesting that all of them had shared stories. They all knew which businesses used to be here, what food could be found where, and even what the land conditions were like in the ’60s,” said Yinzhou, who is working full-time on his walking tours.
What else does Yinzhou hope to achieve through Dakota Adventures?
“The bigger picture is that Dakota represents what Singapore would be like in the future, when we have 60 per cent elderly people and not enough safety nets to catch everyone,” Yinzhou said matter-of-factly.
As Yinzhou puts it: “We will not have another Dakota Crescent, but we will have a lot more relocation programmes.”
How does he find the time to run all three walking tours? Yinzhou, who used to work as an event planner, joked: “I don’t have a life. All these projects are what I do full-time. It is my life.”
And how does he get by?
“Our events are not the ones we make profit from. Our main profits come from the tours. I definitely don’t earn as much as my peers do, but I do earn about $2,000 a month and that keeps me going,” shared Yinzhou, whose tours are priced at $35 each.
His busy schedule didn’t stop him from setting up his third project, Groundwalks with his girlfriend, Say XiangYu, who is in her twenties, in June this year. The new tour gives participants an insider view of the lesser known spaces, communities and conflicts in Little India.
Ultimately, Yinzhou hopes that his projects will one day expand to become a profitable social enterprise where companies can collaborate with him to fulfil their corporate social responsibility.
“All my initiatives are either supposed to scale up, or die a natural death. My passion is refuelled whenever I meet people who have benefitted from what I’ve shared, or whenever my initiatives are able to enact change in the people I serve,” said Yinzhou.
But he might take things slowly next year.
“I want to stop and reflect on what I’ve been doing, so I’m going to take the coming year to do that. Maybe I’ll take my masters or go on a leadership developmental journey? Life is a constant move,” he shared.
If you ever find yourself at the cusp of starting an initiative, consider this piece of advice from Yinzhou.
“Always remain accountable to the people. If you start something, make sure you’re willing to go in for the long run.
“At the same time, don’t be afraid to let go if your initiative is no longer effective,” said Yinzhou.
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